I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Chopper

CHOPPER came out in 2000 and in the 8 years since I don’t think I’ve seen too many characters or performances as good as Eric Bana playing Mark Brandon Read, whose friends call him Chopper and he calls himself Uncle Chop Chop. I never heard of him before the movie but he’s a real Australian criminal who became a celebrity writing his memoirs while he was locked up. And the movie’s based on some of those.

It’s kind of a weird movie. It threw me at first because it doesn’t have much of a structure and it’s kind of a small story. Maybe I was expecting some kind of crime epic or something, but instead a bunch of stuff happens and then it ends. I prefer a tight story but it still had me. It was so captivating I ended up watching it again the next day.

ChopperAnd the reason is this character of Chopper. He’s so funny and likable and yet clearly a dangerous psychopath. Maybe you can forgive him killing criminals, but then he punches his girlfriend. And when her mom intervenes he headbutts her! I mean come on. You don’t disrespect someone’s mama, and in my opinion headbutting is a sign of disresepect.

Chopper is a scary lookin dude. He’s big, covered in shitty tattoos, he’s got some fake teeth in the front and after a certain point in the movie his ears are fucked up. Because he had a guy cut them off in pirson. Long story. But his real talents are mental, he knows how to fuck with people. Like when he visits the house of Jimmy, his old friend who betrayed and stabbed him in prison. And he scares the shit out of him by being too friendly, too jokey. “Wife and kids, eh? The sort of thing that could be used against a fella,” he laughs as if it could really be just a couple buddies teasing each other.

His relationship with the police is funny too. He goes to them and tells them he’s going to help clean the scum off the streets. When they tell him repeatedly that they can’t endorse something like that he laughs and agrees in a sarcastic voice as if they’re wink wink nudge nudging him. Later he thinks a guy is after him, kills the guy, then decides he was wrong. So he goes to the police with a cover story about shooting him in self defense. But they already picked up a guy so they think Chopper’s lying. He should take it as a lucky break but he’s too proud. He gets indignant: “I’ve never been so insulted in all my life!” – and tries to prove to them he did it.

The other thing that’s funny about Chopper as portrayed in the movie is that he’s this cut throat motherfucker but then whenever he gets somebody he immediately feels bad about it. Always apologizing. Sometimes it’s really funny, like when he shoots a guy but ends up accompanying him to the hospital. Other times it’s kind of creepy, like when he viciously shanks a guy in prison, then is immediately washed over with this look of profound regret. And offers him a cigarette. And tells him everything will be alright. But then when the screws show up he tells them “Looks like he did himself a mischief.” Kind of schizophrenic.

I wouldn’t say the tone of the movie was schizophrenic though. There are many, many laughs in the movie but they mostly come from the funny things Chopper says. The tone of the movie is still serious, and in the end you get the idea that his bluster is all kind of for show. When it comes down to it he’s still locked by himself in a little cell.

And Bana is so incredible in the role he should forever be Eric “Chopper” Bana. He’s so funny, so scary and so convincing in his turmoil, which is all shown in his face. He would never admit it. I’m always excited to see Bana in a movie and it’s because of this one. Going back and watching it again after being used to the Bana of HULK and MUNICH is amazing – at first it doesn’t even look like the same guy.

It’s incredible that such a Guinness Book performance would be his first movie role. But what’s even more incredible is that in Australia at the time he was known for sketch comedy and the real Chopper chose him for the role. How the fuck did he know? Maybe he should be a casting agent.

The director is Andrew Dominik who went on to do THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE ETC. ETC. years later. I was surprised to see him get so much acclaim on his second movie, but this one’s got some good directing. There are some gimmicks like a scene where all the characters narrate in rhyme or a time lapse shot of a crime scene investigation from the POV of the corpse. But it never feels hyperactive or anything.

I thought so at the time and I know for sure now – this is one for the pantheon. Required viewing for afficionados of the badass cinema.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Thursday, April 24th, 2008 at 10:43 am and is filed under Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

11 Responses to “Chopper”

  1. Oh what a fucking surprise, you CUNTS and FAGGOTS don’t even comment on goddam fucking CHOPPER! But I bet if this were TOP GUN or LOST BOYS it’d be loaded with fucking community HIGH FIVES yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

    J/K calm down all you bitches. I’ll sing six YMCAs and watch Priscilla and Too Wong Foo back-to-back for penance k. Anyways, ya, for a huge nasty lookin fucking scary dude it’s interesting that Chopper strats are primarily mental. One time when he was actually captured at gunpoint by a rival (via a fake police pullover) he survived the encounter by digging his grave so enthusiastically that his captor let his guard down in a moment long enough for Chop Chop to club him with the shovel and bury the dick.

    Or so says his book… A point worth noting – I read 5 of his books and they are so full of shit that they even contradict themselves (a lot). Not really in a bad way – I very much enjoyed them – but Chopper himself regularly says to never let the truth get in the way of a good story. I love how his first book ends with the tough motto (he used French) “I regret nothing”, and then his next says “What bullshit, I regret everything” which is a more reasonable sentiment for a man who spent most of his life in prison. Fact is though, most of the movie is just as likely to be bullshit (and from the books alone I’m certain some parts are completely fictional). You get a better idea if you take the time to watch it with Chopper’s commentary though – well worth the time. It’s fucking hilarious when he laughs here and there remembering things, and his sombre tones when you can tell he’s not proud of every moment.

    I ran into Chopper in a caravan park swimming pool when he was batheing with his mrs (a seriously charismatic and articulate guy – history and all, I seriously think he could’ve run for PM). That encounter comparison for me qualifies Bana for an Academy Award, which brings me to the reason I am posting.

    You people (non-Australians and Americanised Australians) give way to much credit to Bana as an actor. I feel bad for you and embarrassed for us. See, Bana has done one decent role – and this was it – and everything since, I mean everything including Hulk, Star Trek, Funny People, Black Hawk Down, fucking ALL of it… is abysmal. Many Australians immediately recognise what he’s doing to be shocking, terrible, really fucking laughable acting. I remember sitting with a big group of my closer buds watching Bana on Lettermen and we were all just about crying with embarrassment. He was doing Nolte impressions – the worst impressions I’ve ever seen, and reminded the audience that he had his own comedy show in Australia. He neglected to add that it was one of the lowest rating shows of all time, and was axed after just a few episodes. And I watched those episodes, and I am still feeling the pain – the embarrsment for Bana – to see something go so wrong as when he brought Warrick Cappa on (Australian Football icon) and interviewed him Oprah style on a 1 hour talk show as Wazza – Bana’s ultra-poor, ultra-unfunny, impersonation favourite. Reminded of an Uncle who thought he was doing Daffy Duck by punching his wife at parties while talking out the side of his mouth, seriously – Bana is that ‘good’.

    On top of that, he’s a dick. I mean, he’s okay enough in a normal way, but he’s mostly a dick. I went to an audience sitting of Surprise Surprise – a short-lived Australia version of Candid Camera for ‘celebrities’ (before Bana did any movies) and his setup was an obnoxioux patron at a restaurant. Bana took it all like a bitch without saying a single word to help anyone, and then ranted on like a macho king at the end how he was gonna kill the guy and nearly killed the guy and how lucky the guy was etc etc. I was sitting with two Swedish guys I was renting with at the time and my friend yelled out “You’re a fucking Hero Bana” and got us all ejected the fucker. But he was right. Bana’s a bit of a tool.

    So yeah – I’m glad you saw this Vern because as an Australian, I’m proud we actually can produce the occasional watchable film like this. Chopper’s a truly interesting character, though I think the mainstream Australian love and acceptance for this truly sadistic and brutal murdering thug is far more interesting. Would make for a better movie – though mebbe you could argue Stone already did that with Natural Born Killers (my 2nd favourite movie of all time). They forgive the fact that this guy has used a nailgun to hammer people’s knees, laughs about using bolt-cutters on people’s toes and even blowtorches peoples toes – even laughing about these things on live television (I kid you not). We pay him to do ads – on that note, you’ve all watched Bana, check out the real deal – couple ads that were unfortunately pulled soon after airing here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_2M3LrfFAw
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpQeZEmien4&NR=1

    Something else ironic though is we have a guy called Ronnie Johns who does Chopper impressions. Chopper himself went out hitting the clubs as a stand-up comedien for a while. The irony part is that Ronnie Johns impersonations of Chopper are more popular and make him more money than the real deal lol.

    Here’s a video of Ronnie Johns doing Chopper:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_Iwk0JsQxo&feature=related

  2. need phd in computer science to have avatar. fail

  3. Thanks for the insights, Armageddon. I don’t think Bana will ever have a role half as good as Chopper, and it makes me sad. But how could you say he’s abysmal in MUNICH or STAR TREK? Two totally different roles I thought he was perfect in.

    Also, what would you say are other Australian movies you’re proud of?

  4. I really dug the Assassination of Jesse James, both a really good deconstruction of myth, and a good telling of the same kind of myth. The only weak link is the last half hour when the narration overwhelms and it becomes a lot of telling not showing. But the movie is well-made and well-acted throughout.

  5. I still enjoyed Munich and Star Trek, but I would say in spite of Eric Bana. What is abysmal and most difficult to tolerate in his acting is his atrocious attempt at accent. In every single movie since Chopper he sounds like the worst version of an American doing a dodgy Australian accent. I figure he must have had some training with the only other Australian to sound like him (shocking in his own right, but still not as bad as Bana) – Richard Norton. Hmm, checking for curiosity just now, they both grew up in the same area, maybe 20kms apart. Anyway, there has to be a nuance in that accent that prevents non-Australians and Americanised Australians from hearing it. Presumably the same nuance that allows those Americans mentioned above to get into movies with those ridiculous accents – like the ‘Australian’ police in Point Break for example.

    There is another phenomenon at work with Bana that he also shares with one other Australian – Steve Irwin. See Irwin was considered by Australians to be an imbecile and a dickhead and an embarrassment to Australians. I LOVED and watched every animal doco that ever came out and was pretty eager to catch the new Crocodile Hunter doco back in the 90s despite that the ads warned this guy had to be a wanker. I was one of the few to tune in anyway and it became the first doco I ever had to turn off after 10 minutes. My dissappointed impression was of a tryhard dickhead loser who wanted to prove he was tough. The show was cancelled after a couple episodes due to some of the worst ratings ever. Australians didn’t hate him – they just recognised him as a dick. Americans fucking loved this tossbag. But here, that also means our media fucking loved him. but try as they might over the years, they just couldn’t get anyone to watch him, on any channel and in any format.

    As soon as Irwin died though – fuck me – national fucking hero. One day earlier, national embarrassment. It was fascinating to watch unfold. Our most popular nighttime talkbacker (exact Oz equivilent to Howard Stern) asked what was going on – noting that everyone just thought Irvin was a dickhead – and he was seriously crucified for such blasphemy. I hadn’t seen such a crucifiction in Australia since our (3rd)most popular daytime talkbacker said out loud that our gay and witless comedy icon Graham Kennedy was gay (another hilarious fact – our 2nd most popular daytime talkbacker Allan Jones – hardcore sensationalist rightwing cunt, is also a fag, but none of his huge audience of smallminded homophobic redneck listeners will entertain the notion).

    Just like Irwin, we fucking love Bana now. Just recently I watched “20 to 1 greatest Australian comediens”, and fucking Bana is on there right up high! Celebrity after celebrity sucking Bana’s cock going on about how much they laughed their fucking arses off at his great comedy shows and what a fucking comedien he was. His shows had terrible ratings and were cancelled. He couldn’t even do good impressions of Australians lol.

    As to your question of what other Australian movies I’m proud of… hmmm, perhaps best context to answer is movies that I’m proud to think of international audiences, and especially American, watching. Quick mention first of the Bazza’s “Australia” as the movie I am most embarrassed about other people seeing. I’m literally wincing here just imagining that thought for a second. The best are one’s that capture the real Australian personality, disposition and attitude for you guys because even though it’s shrinking down these last few decades, it’s still prevalent, especially out of the cities. I’m proud of that even when they ham up the hokey and mythological aspects like Crocodile Dundee (1 & 2). Best of those are prolly:

    Gallipoli (early Gibson too);
    Two Hands (early Ledger & Brian Brown at his best);
    The Castle (almost too hokey, but still a gem. Bana’s first too actually – support role, and the only other role where he adds to the film…speaks in his own accent though);
    and actually a few mini-series are amazing but prolly never watched outside of the Australia – Like Fields of Fire (especially Australian), Anzacs, Return to Eden, and the Thorn Birds.
    And special mention to Dogs in Space (also Michael’s Hutchence’s first role) which is brilliantly captures living in the Australian burbs 18-22 in the 70s, but done so well it captured the 80s and 90s too.

    Other Australian movies I’m most proud of are: Jedda (1955); Romper Stomper (Crowe’s first – a must see); The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith; The Boys; Noise; The Man from Snowy river; Breaker Morant; Priscilla Queen of the Desert; Samson and Delilah; and Bad Boy Bubby;

    also in other ways I really liked Dirty Deeds; Cosi; Ned Kelly (Ledger also. Bagged out but I didn’t mind it. Liked Mick Jagger’s as well); The Proposition; Holy Smoke; The Dish; Hercules Returns (Hercules dubbed by a few comedians including Brian Spence – it’s ridiculous but somehow it’s pretty Australian too); some of these are real trying too hard but still work – biggest in that category is Welcome to Woop Woop.

    Havn’t mentioned any movies covered by Not Quite Hollywood as no need to tread same ground, they did a good job and I’m really proud of that ‘movie’/doco somehow making it to even your video shop Vern.

    If say an American asked me for a list of 5 movies to see that captured ‘Australia’, I would say to watch Two Hands; Dogs in Space; The Castle; Crocodile Dundee and Fields of Fire.

    If they then asked for our best cinema, I would say now watch Noise; Romper Stomper; The Boys; Gollipoli; and The Man from Snowy River.

  6. On topic of Chopper, I just wanted to let you know we have a DVD coming out here shortly that is a biographical of the real Mark “Chopper” Read and it’s lookin pritty good to me (Chopper starring Chopper, not called Chopper II or anything but I dun know final name). And I wanna reiterate that the commentary track on Chopper is prolly one of the best commentary tracks I ever listened too so if anyone wants to try out a commentary track some time, this is a good movie to do it with. I often watch films and then immediately start over with commentary track cos I dun like to get up once I’m comfy. Mostly I can say they are not so great.

  7. Ack. After years of bitching about shitty accent now following this post my friends are suddenly changing their views arguing saying I got it wrong and Bana is proving good actor. Where the fuck is this coming from I don’t know, mebbe one of more recent movies spun this shit, but more of this Irwin phenomenon at work I tells you. All still agree he was never funny though at least.

    Now I gotta contemplate possibility I am become minority voice of dissent against some of the worst acting in history… and start exploring wide. I want to be proud but he’s a fucking tool and he can’t act for shit. Fucking Black Hawk Down is so goddam painful I’d even wish for Wil Wheaton to take Bana’s role just to make movie rewatchable. Munich coulda been a 9 instead of a 7 due to lead sounding like bogan knob making fun of jews. Troy wasn’t gonna get much better either way granted, though Bana’s less intrusive role made me enjoy it more than even Munich. Hulk was not great regardless.

    Errata – I didn’t mean to type Ronnie Johns in top post, that is name of his show. The guy who plays Chopper more successfully than Chopper is actually Heath Franklin, not Ronnie. Coincidentally there was an article in the paper couple days ago with Chopper discussing Heath. Actually Chopper is so loved he makes the papers most months anyway, but in this instance he was having a winge about being broke and people making so much money off him (he made some money from his many books but gambled it away. He tried to give his proceeds of the movie Chopper to some police victims funds for irony but it didn’t get as much value as he was goin for. Anyways, he says in article that he ran into Heath and he asked Heath for 5% of his earnings since Heath is making such a killing pretending to be Chopper. He said Heath broke down in tears crying and he told Heath that “he needs to harden the fuck up” which Heath used in his next series to even greater success:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unkIVvjZc9Y

  8. AU seems to enjoy talking to himself.
    The best Aussie movie by far, is Bad Boy Bubby.

  9. Bad Boy Bubby
    Chopper
    Animal Kingdom
    Snowtown

    I’ve seen four Autralian movies, I think, and I really love each and every one of them.

    Bad Boy Bubby I would hesitate to recommend to a lot of people; I was skeptical myself through much of its runtime. It wasn’t until literally the last few scenes (with the musical performances) that I realized it had won me over. It’s very similar to Amelie actually, only instead of a devastatingly cute French chick, it’s a psychotic Australian who was raped by his mother and is a serial suffocationist. See it if in the mood for something really different.

    The other three are all crime movies and I would unhesitantly recommend them to anybody. Chopper and Animal Kingdom have been well documented on this site…

    I guess SNOWTOWN is more comparable to ANIMAL KINGDOM (I’ve heard it called “an even bleaker ANIMAL KINGDOM” and it’s a fair assessment). It’s a true-story about Australia’s most notorious serial killer or whatever. Superb film, but utterly psychologically wrecking. I couldn’t name you a darker film off the top of my head.

    …for one thing, you never hear anything about there being an investigation about the murders. As far as the movie is concerned there is none. So there’s no relief or hope that this will end or anything. You just watch the few sympathetic characters get slowly worn down by lifelong unspeakable psychological torment. I felt that it was very unsensationalized and raw and awesome.

  10. Oh yeah, I came upon this review because I just watched JESSE JAMES/ROBERT FORD and my hair was blown back so thoroughly that I’m cruising the net for some release. Can’t BELIEVE it’s the same dude! And lo and behold, his third movie is coming out in just under a month. Happy times.

    Between JESSE JAMES and GONE BABY GONE, 2007 was quite a year for Affleck the Younger, wot?

  11. Haven’t watched the thing in forever but as a former Melbournite who bumped into the guy on a number of occasions while studying at NMIT it honestly feels weird that he’s gone. Nothing much to add except that I hope like hell there isn’t an attempt to filmatise the 13 years of his life following the events of this one. Additionally, he released a rap album entitled INTERVIEW WITH A MADMAN which was both unsurprisingly awful while also being better than one might expect under the circumstances, or under any circumstances for that matter.

    Also HAIL is an Aussie film that I cannot recommend highly enough and which I don’t feel had enough exposure during its release over here , let alone overseas, although it did win a couple of awards and was very favourably reviewed. And of course MURIEL’S WEDDING is one of the greatest films that Australia, or indeed any country, has ever produced. In my opinion.

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